Location Israel Israel

Forest fire in Israel: arrests and foreign help

As an estimated 220 fires raged across central and northern Israel.

A number of arrests have been made by security personnel as Israeli firefighters continued on Thursday to battle blazes raging across the center and north of the country, with communities in the south opening their doors to those who were forced to flee the flames.

“It’s likely that there is a nationalist motive in some of the arson cases,” Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh told reporters at a briefing in the northern city of Haifa on Thursday.

“We have a special integrated investigation team that is monitoring everything that is happening across the country,” he said. “I don’t want to get into questions regarding where [we suspect] arson and where we do not. If this is… arson, it could be nationalistically motivated. It’s certainly not just [simple] pyromania,” he emphasized. “And there have been arrests. But Alsheikh declined to share further details.

“There are some cases of arson, and lots of cases that are not arson,” he allowed, but revealed little else.

Four Arabs from the Palestinian Authority have been arrested so far on suspicion of having deliberately set the fires that continue to blaze across the Jerusalem Corridor.

Officials from the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) said in a statement they are investigating the possibility that some of the fires are actually terrorist attacks.

Earlier in the day, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement that up to half of the fires raging across the nation were, in fact, caused by arson. High winds and dry weather, he said, meant that a spark as small as a cigarette butt could ignite a blazing forest fire.

In Haifa, a state of emergency was declared. Some 60,000 people were evacuated from their homes, at least 100 were sent to city hospitals suffering from smoke inhalation. More than a dozen neighborhoods were evacuated, local trains stopped running and the local airport was shut down.

Fires near the Paz Bridge, Haifa Bay and the city stadium were reported, with high winds and dry conditions helping the flames to spread.

Some 350 firefighters and Home Front Command rescue personnel working with 115 fire trucks battled dozens of blazes across the port city.

Foreign nations sent firefighting aircraft flying to the aid of the Jewish State.

By Thursday morning, Israel’s Foreign Ministry had announced via Twitter and other social media venues: “The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has sent two Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft to fight the fires in Israel.”

The ministry didn’t forget to offer the nation’s thanks to everyone who sent help in Israel’s hour of need. “Thank you #Cyprus, #Croatia, #Greece, #Italy, #Russia, #Turkey, #Romania & Bulgaria for sending help to fight the fires in Israel. True friends!” tweeted the ministry on the Twitter social networking site.

Four firefighting aircraft arrived from Cyprus and Greece alone. Included were 49 crew members, one Air Tractor from Cyprus and two Bombardiers and one Hercules from Greece, all ready for immediate battle and highly valued for their carrying capacity. Additional aircraft arrived from Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Italy and Croatia.

The entire State of Israel had only 2,500 fire personnel at last count in 2013, including 1,800 firefighters. According to Israel Fire and Rescue Authority, only some seven percent of Israel’s total area is comprised of forest land, about 400,560 acres (1,621,000 dunams.) Each year, an average of 1,000 fires blaze in Jewish National Fund (JNF) forests in the country, affecting some 37,000 dunams (about 9,000 acres) of land.

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